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The role of Gariwo: education for global responsibility

by Gabriele Nissim

The historic photo was taken 50 years ago on Christmas Eve

The historic photo was taken 50 years ago on Christmas Eve

What is Gariwo's identity and which are its goals in the coming years?

We discussed this topic in a stimulating meeting with our ambassadors and collaborators. To answer these questions we must, first of all, start from the history of Gariwo and its originality in the cultural debate. Gariwo with the experience of the Gardens of the Righteous has moved with three specific intentions. Create an active memory as opposed to a memory that, although starting from the best intentions, often has its eyes turned only to the past.

Remembering the Shoah, the genocides and all totalitarianisms means transmitting knowledge in order to prevent the resurgence of new evils in our time and to educate people to take personal responsibility in their lives. To be able to do this, it is always necessary to compare the past with the present so that society not only understands the warning signs of evil, but is able to understand the new challenges and contradictions of the present time. Many do not realize that it is easier to be good ex post, to condemn Nazism and communism, but it is much more complicated to indicate the path of responsible action in one's own time. It is not enough to say that we do not have to repeat the past, because nothing in the human condition reoccurs in the same way. Not to repeat means to understand first of all that evil can recur in completely new forms and therefore new instruments of prevention must be found.

This is why Gariwo has wanted not only the Righteous of the past to be remembered in its Gardens, but also the virtuous men of our time, to stimulate people to think and get used to always make comparisons. As the writer Francesco Cataluccio has pointed out, the Gardens of the Righteous become in this way also “stumbling gardens”, because they strongly remind us to recognise what is not working in our society. By indicating possible Righteous figures of our time, they show to the society virtuous behaviour to emulate and the difficult challenges to which we are all called. Why is there a risk of stumbling in a Garden? The reason is simple. It costs nothing to feel admiration for the Righteous of the past, but it is much more challenging to project with the imagination their stories in the present time and to feel a sincere solidarity for those who are fighting for a global responsibility in the face of nationalist drifts, migrations and climate change. Gariwo then has wanted to give strength and visibility to the stories of the Righteous to convey a message of optimism and hope. Their biographies, even in the most difficult situations, show that every human being can use his tiny space of freedom to push the story in a new direction. Everyone can become the arbiter of his own destiny by exercising his thoughts.

This is the key point of our activity (as Andrée Ruth Shammah asks us): to show with the Gardens of the Righteous that, always and everywhere, every man, regardless of his role and profession, has always the possibility to choose. This is why the Gardens, with all their side activities, are an educational tool for choice and responsibility. They therefore have a maieutic function. They encourage people to think and listen to their conscience, to always put themselves from the point of view of humanity - and I would say from the point of view of the planet. As the scientist Stephen Hawking wrote, the Earth seen from the Moon in the famous photo of the Apollo mission shows that constant education to look at things from above makes us aware of our fragility and of the need to always being in solidarity with one another. Because we are all inhabitants of a tiny fragment of the universe. Every person in life therefore continually chooses to follow his ego, or to act together with others to multiply his strength.

I could use a metaphor dear to thinkers like Yuval Noah Harari and Stephen Hawking: today we can all save ourselves only if we are able to take on a global responsibility. Today more than ever the warning of the American President Johnson in 1964 in front of the dangers of the nuclear war (passed to the history like the Daisy advertisement because it showed in a video a little girl that removed the petals to a daisy, as if it were a countdown) is worth: "This is what is at stake. Create a world where all the children of God can live, or choose the darkness. We must love each other or die”.

It is our true selfish interest, as Baruch Spinoza would say today - that he would laugh at the smallness of the sovereigns who delude themselves that they are making the interests of their nations when in fact they work for opposition and closure.

How can Gariwo realise its path, while being aware of the importance to be always humble and open to all contributions (I always remain of the idea that the worst are those who think they are carriers of absolute truths)?

First of all by transmitting knowledge of global problems in the face of ignorance and approximation. Here is the role of teacher training courses that are in the planning stage. And the creation of a "brain" of reflection around Gariwo’s website with the involvement of scholars and intellectuals. We must explain climate change, the mechanisms of migration, the state of human rights in the world, the tools of genocide prevention and the possible therapies against hatred, the threat of illiberal democracies that a powerful leader like Putin has recently has exalted in his interview with the Financial Time. Then pointing to the "world" civil society (a beautiful underlining by Giovanni Cominelli) the best examples of our humanity.

The stories of the Righteous can stimulate young people’s education and thought. As Anna Foa pointed out, they make the younger generation rediscover the taste and pleasure of hope. Without imagining a dream and a future it is inevitable to fall into nihilism and de-responsibility. The success of the Gariwo Gardens is not accidental, but responds to a question of meaning and perspective for the future. Freedom is not just being able to do what you want, but imagining being able to become, in your own small, vehicle for a better future. This is the kind of hope that gives us the strength to accomplish unthinkable things.

There are two new tools we can use for our road map, which we could also define as education for responsibility and hope (two elements that are united and essential). Create within Gariwo network a commission of guarantors that can deal with the cases of the controversial Righteous to avoid falling into trivialization. Respecting the autonomy of the Gardens, Gariwo wants to help making the best choices, to enhance in every Garden in Italy and in the world what Moshe Bejski almost prophetically defined as "the élite of man". He had sensed that in front of the walls, the divisions, the nationalisms that provoke wars, genocides and lacerations in every age, it was necessary to teach that the Righteous are first of all citizens of the world and not of a particular nation. They teach to always act from the point of view of humanity. 

The stories of the Righteous can stimulate young people’s education and thought. As Anna Foa pointed out, they make the younger generation rediscover the taste and pleasure of hope. Without imagining a dream and a future it is inevitable to fall into nihilism and de-responsibility. The success of the Gariwo Gardens is not accidental, but responds to a question of meaning and perspective for the future. Freedom is not just being able to do what you want, but imagining being able to become, in your own small, vehicle for a better future. This is the kind of hope that gives us the strength to accomplish unthinkable things.

There are two new tools we can use for our road map, which we could also define as education for responsibility and hope (two elements that are united and essential). Create within Gariwo network a commission of guarantors that can deal with the cases of the controversial Righteous to avoid falling into trivialization. Respecting the autonomy of the Gardens, Gariwo wants to help making the best choices, to enhance in every Garden in Italy and in the world what Moshe Bejski almost prophetically defined as "the élite of man". He had sensed that in front of the walls, the divisions, the nationalisms that provoke wars, genocides and lacerations in every age, it was necessary to teach that the Righteous are first of all citizens of the world and not of a particular nation. They teach to always act from the point of view of humanity. So this universal characterization of the Gardens (from Tunis, to Warsaw, to Rome, to Marseille, to Stockholm) responds to the most important challenge of our time where the political and moral clash is between those who shut themselves up in their own ego and in the trenches of their own country and who looks at belonging to the whole world.

Secondly, as we did on the occasion of the elaboration of the Charter of responsibilities2017 (inspired by Zvetan Todorov’s idea of the everyday virtues and by the elaboration of Vaclav Havel and Charta '77), we want to indicate virtuous behaviour with respect to sport, environment and the use of social media that can become both a vehicle of friendship and respect for the other, and a source of hatred and enmity.

The message we want to send to the new generations through the Gardens is, in fact, that the best way to take an example from the Righteous is to live one's personal existence with a spirit of openness and with behaviours that make us better. Primo Levi realized that extreme evil is never born in another planet, but it is constructed and fed in behaviours that appear also in democracy. The hatred that manifests itself in typhus, in political debate, on social networks, apparently does not cause wars and genocides, but the accumulation of evil and the habit of despising the other - as told by Svetlana Broz - led to the genesis of violence such as ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia. From a football match with exasperated fans who expressed hatred for different ethnic groups, they then moved on to the civil war, without people sensing the qualitative leap of evil. Before it was normal to despise enemy fans, then it became normal to kill enemies. This is why we want to launch new attachments to the Charter of responsibilities with a public debate, not to make moralistic sermons, but to encourage young people to choose new behaviours and feel responsible.

We then gave ourselves a task at national level in the face of the progressive debasement of Italy's image in international relations. We want our country to continue to be a messenger of peace and solidarity in the world. We are a respected nation in the world because we spread beauty and creativity. We must continue to be so also as divulgers of "Good" and moral virtues.

That's why in collaboration with numerous embassies (in France, Sweden, Tunisia, Jordan and now we hope with the Farnesina, where the idea of a Garden of Italian diplomats is being discussed) we are building Gardens of the Righteous in so many countries. Italy, after Israel that told the Righteous of the Holocaust, can become the messenger in the world of the idea of universal Righteous. In this way our reputation will gain acceptance and admiration in the world.

Many times we have been told: "you of Gariwo built the Gardens because you represent the best Italian spirit". This is what we want to do and achieve.

Yuval Noah Harari writes sharply that it is not wrong to feel patriotic, but it this depends on the spirit in which it is done. "The moderate forms of patriotism are one of the most affectionate expressions of humanity. This can push me to take care of others and make sacrifices. The problem arises when there is the presumption of a nation superiority and it is thought that there are no obligations towards someone else". So you can choose an open homeland or a closed homeland. With the Gardens abroad we push for openness, even in these complicated times. While someone closes the ports to migrants, we indicate the way of the Gardens as a stimulus to welcome and respect the other in each country.

Gariwo has an ambition: it aims to create the foundation to be able to last over time and become an institution that is recognized for its educational role. We are not aligned with any power and we do not move only in a particular political season. We would like the Gardens to go beyond our existence and serve to stimulate consciences permanently, from generation to generation. That's why we made an immense effort for the Garden of Milan, to make it a perennial place in Milanese and national life.

In the history of the twentieth century, two experiences of education to responsibility left their mark: the Ventotene Manifesto, which launched the foundations of the new European spirit during the dark years of fascism, and Charta '77, which represented in Prague the genesis of moral resistance to the totalitarianism. We would like Gariwo to collect its legacy and play an important role in the education for responsibility, but not linked to a single contingency. That's why we want to ask everyone for a contribution in building solid foundations. Giovanni Falcone said that people have a limited time, but that their ideas can walk on the legs of new generations. Here is our ambition: not to build an ephemeral reputation, not to look for appearance, but to create solidity for the future.

Gabriele Nissim, Gariwo Chairman

Analysis by Gabriele Nissim, Gariwo Chairman

5 September 2019

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